Tap, tap, tap…is this thing on?
It’s been an awfully long time since my last Vegimental. Turns out my visions of me tapping away at the computer while the baby sleeps in his bassinet was a complete and utter fantasy. In reality, baby Teddy hasn’t been interested in doing much sleeping at all unless someone—namely, me—is holding him. It’s been eight weeks of me doing a whole lot of sitting still.
At first I got really cranky about not being able to roll out my mat at least once a day and lose myself in a few choice yoga poses, or take advantage of this time when I don’t have any deadlines to work on some pet projects. But over the weeks, I realized that all my staying in one place was having a pretty amazing effect—it has helped me reconnect with the ability to be gentle, something I’d gotten away from in the last several months when I’d been focused on getting ready for the baby’s arrival.
What does being gentle mean, exactly? Instead of getting impatient that I’m not able to sit down and focus solely on writing a Vegimental, I can pick up a book (with the arm that’s not holding the baby) and actually enjoy reading in the middle of a weekday. Rather than gritting my teeth when Teddy starts stirring after sleeping for only 15 minutes, I can concentrate on savoring the sensation of having his little body curled up on my lap. Instead of snapping at my husband when he’s grumpy after a rough night’s sleep, I can find the humor in the abnormal behavior this intense period sometimes pushes us to. I’m not always successful. I’m certainly not always blissfully content. But I’m a lot more level-headed than I was after our first baby was born, when I was a hormonal stress monster, always ready to break in to a sweat at the slightest little peep from the baby. To me, the process feels like softening—replacing rigid, knee-jerk reactions with more thoughtful, kinder responses.
Not just for toilet paper
Except for the paper we use to wipe our tushies, softness isn’t something that’s highly valued in our society. “He’s gone soft,” is a put-down. “My brain has turned to mush,” implies that we’re incapacitated in some way. But I have found that softness is something to welcome. When I can manage to react with softness to other people, my interactions are a lot more peaceful and insightful.
Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun who writes about mindfulness in plain and entertaining language, describes how to allow your edges to soften—which she refers to as removing your armor—in her book, The Wisdom of No Escape:
“Removing our armor [means] removing our protections, undoing all that stuff that covers over our wisdom and our gentleness. Nobody else can take it off because nobody else knows where all the little locks are. I may have a zipper that goes right down the front and has padlocks all the way down. But you have sewn a seam up under your left arm with iron thread. The next person you meet has these big boots that come all the way up and cover their whole body and head. The basic instruction is simple: Start taking off that armor. That’s all anyone can tell you. No one can tell you how to do it because you’re the only one who knows how you locked yourself in there to begin with.”
So, how do you remind yourself to take off a tiny piece of your armor when something or someone causes your habitual defenses to go up? (Aside from spending several hours a day holding a sleeping baby, that is?) Here are a couple of ideas:
- Take a deep breath. Just that tiny little pause helps me not react out of defensiveness and creates a little space for grace. When I remember to do so (and remembering is the hardest part) my reaction takes care of itself. I don’t need to think up the perfect thing to say or do—it just flies out of my mouth.
- Touch your heart, which gives you a quick reminder to react out of compassion and intuition instead of your intellect and defensiveness.
- Repeat a favorite word or phrase (otherwise known as a mantra), which could be anything from “om” to “heaven help me”).
Share Your Tips
How have you remembered to act with gentleness in the heat of the moment? What techniques do you use to take off tiny pieces of your armor? Leave a comment and if I publish your idea in the next Vegimental (whenever it might be – although I hope it won’t be another eight weeks), I’ll send you a copy of Pema’s audio CD Don’t Bite the Hook: Finding Freedom from Anger, Resentment, and other Destructive Emotions.
Take care and keep breathing,